protecting kids

Why Counting Twitter Mentions of ‘Fag’ and ‘Dyke’ Is a Useless Goal for GLSEN


Think Before You Speak is the “let’s not say nasty anti-gay things” campaign started by the Advertising Council and GLSEN, the organization started by radical homosexual activist Kevin Jennings, who is in hiding as Barack Obama‘s safe school czar. (Also in hiding: MassResistance, which is being fingered for spearheading attacks on Jennings in the media.) In its first phase, the campaign signed up celebs like Hillary Duff to appear in ad spots showing young people why phrases like “That’s so gay” are unnecessary and hurtful. Now in Phase Two — also known as Defcon 17, bitches! — TBYS is getting all webby on us. Like with a counter on its homepage counting how many times Twitter users say things like “fag,” “dyke,” and “so gay.” This is a neat trick. It’s also kind of stupid. Allow us to explain.

1. All uses of words like “fag” are not terrible. Like GLAAD, GLSEN also had a problem with that “faggot”-filled South Park episode. And like GLAAD, they had a reactionary response: Nooooo! By counting up all the mentions on Twitter every day, GLSEN makes an arbitrary assessment of hate speech in real time. But given that we’re prolific Twitter users, we know there are plenty of gay folks out there using these words in ways that are not terrible. GLSEN’s counter doesn’t account for that usage.

2. GLSEN is aimed at school children, but Twitter is used primarily by adults. Sure, GLSEN doesn’t want anyone using bad language, but by monitoring mentions on Twitter, they’re giving the false impression this web technology is filled with anti-gay slurs written and read by young people.


As the above Comscore chart shows, most Twitter users are 35-54 — though it’s unknown whether certain age demographics are using “fag” words disproportionately more often than others. And while the chart shows activity on, and not traffic through desktop or mobile applications (which younger people likely use in greater numbers), Twitter’s growth has been seen as more surprising than other new web technologies precisely because older people are using it, and kids are still on MySpace and Facebook.

3. Having a goal of “0” makes a cute statement, but it’s wholly unrealistic. Of course we want to live in a world where nobody says mean things to each other. But that will never be the case. Ultimately, GLSEN must be fighting for the absolute annihilation of hate speech. We’d love that too! But why not have a goal of “increasingly less and less” hate speech floating around on Twitter? It shouldn’t be hard to plug in some code to deliver a website widget that shows whether “fag” and “dyke” usage on Twitter is declining, or spiking month-over-month.

4. There are more bad phrases than just the three listed. What about “faggot,” “homo,” “queer,” “batty boy,” “fudgepacker,” “fairy,” and “Rupert Everett”? All of those are equally as offensive, and given they’re often interchangeable, clocking only three words on Twitter doesn’t give the whole picture.